Sunday, September 28, 2014

Book Review: 1920, America’s Great War, by Robert Conroy

It’s been a busy time here on the ol’ blog, and between work and the courses I have to take for work, I almost didn’t make it this month’s post… but I did.

This month, I’m reviewing 1920: America’s Great War, by Robert Conroy.  Conroy’s latest book, starts with a novel point of departure: what if the von Schlieffen plan – the German plan for a Hail Mary end-run through Belgium and into Paris –actually had worked – and in this case forcing the Allies to sue for peace in 1915?  In Conroy’s world, this is what has happened, leaving the British Empire humbled but not entirely sidelined and the French under German occupation.

Flash forward to 1920, and now the Kaiser is up to his dastardly business in Mexico, propping up the government of President Carranza.  But it seems he is also casting longing eyes on California, aiming to add another overseas territory to the growing German Empire and knock the United States – its only remaining competitor - out of the Great Power game.

It is an interesting premise, and the action is suitably blood-and-thunder, and it certainly won’t disappoint alt-history fans who also like military history.  However, I have been struggling with Conroy’s work as of late – and I guess I can put it down to a simple matter of characterization: the Americans – are almost to a person, noble and resolute; the Germans are iron-fisted and moustache-twirling; and the British are suitably sporting but also calculating.  If I’m grossly generalizing, please forgive me – it’s also what I’m seeing in this book –that Conroy’s characters are essentially two-dimensional.

Now the book is well-written; no doubt about that.  And Conroy has found a truly fascinating and little-noted turning point in history – those first few months of the First World War – that with a little more luck on their side, events might have worked out for the Germans in 1914-15.  

In this theme, I note that Conroy is siding with historians such as Margaret MacMillan, who in her The War That Ended Peace (reviewed earlier on this blog), have also maintained, that the Great War was responsible for most of 20th century’s ills and a great many of the 21st century’s problems, too.  (To truly get a sense of this, if you haven’t read The War That Ended Peace and her earlier Paris: 1919, you really should.)

Now, do I recommend 1920: America’s Great War?  Sure. It entertained me.  And characterizations aside, in the end, that’s all that counts. 

Right now, I’m currently reading Simon Urban’s Plan D, which takes place in a present-day East Berlin where the Wall never fell. So far, I can report it’s very good.

In the meantime, have a look at my own books, Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.   Thanks.